Dr. Gregory Jantz

How To Raise a Happy, Healthy Teen

April 30, 2015

Whether you have a teenage girl or a teenage boy, there’s a lot going on physically in that body and brain. As a parent, you can create some simple physical conditions to help support your teen’s maturation process.

These conditions are commonsense items you already know about but may not have implemented for your teenager (or yourself, for that matter). Although these lifestyle changes are not complicated, they aren’t necessarily easy, either. Implementing these five items into your teenager’s life could make all the difference.

  1. Eat healthy. While most teens eat meals away from the house, they are probably getting the majority of their food at home, at least several days a week. This is where you can start. Make sure there are healthy alternatives available for them. What you have in the fridge and the cabinet is what they have available. Teens are notoriously convenience driven.

Make your selections palatable. There is a greater variety of healthy and good tasting food, more than ever before. Put some thought into your selections; if you won’t eat them, neither will your kids.

Start whittling away at the junk. There’s nothing wrong with a package of cookies in your cabinet. But, if all you have is four different kinds of cookies, three packages of chips, two types of crackers, along with premade frosting and prepackaged mixes, there might be an issue. The cabinet should not be the first place your kids go for food. Ideally it should be the refrigerator, where fresh fruits and vegetables are kept.

Be proactive about your teen’s eating choices. He may appreciate that there is a bag of carrots cleaned and ready to go in the fridge. She may still hunt out the cookies when she gets home from school, but they could be your homemade, whole-wheat raisin cookies instead of a package of chocolate marshmallow wafers. Convenience is important to a busy, distracted teen. However, convenience doesn’t need to mean prepackaged.

  1. Get plenty of exercise. For parents of younger teens, this is easier because physical education is still part of most middle school curriculum. In high school, however, it can become more complicated with elective choices like bowling. The type of exercise your teenager needs is cardiovascular and, ideally, should be vigorous enough to produce a sweat.

Some high schools allow kids to waive out of PE in order to take other electives or needed requirements. If this is what your teen is experiencing, exercise is going to have to come through a different venue. It might need to be an after-school sport. It could also be helpful for your teen to get out and move via bicycling, walking, or running. You may also consider indoor, virtual exercise on a game system, stationary bike, or dance DVD. Don’t be deceived that a thin teen is a physically fit teen. Appropriate exercise is beneficial for everyone, not just for those who are overweight.

  1. Take nutritional supplements. We are not talking about a dietary cornucopia of pills. Just help your teen start the habit of taking a good multimineral and multivitamin each day. Teenagers’ bodies are changing drastically. Adequate nutrients will not only help with physical well-being, but can also have a huge impact on their mental health and happiness.

Talk to your teen about the best time and place to take their vitamins and supplements. Teens have access to so much nutritional information, more and more of which is coming to them during school. You may be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to get your teen to agree.

  1. Drink lots of water. Staying well hydrated is especially important for teenagers, but often overlooked. Drinking an adequate amount of water during the day will help your teenager’s energy level, immune system functioning, and will also help clear up skin problems such as pimples and acne. Because teenagers are away at school for most of the day, it is difficult to stay involved in your child’s daily water intake. One suggestion is to outfit your teen with a “cool” water bottle (often found in trendy, teenage stores), and keep a water jug in your refrigerator stocked with cold, pure tasting water.
  1. Get plenty of rest. Teens need a lot of sleep because of complex physical changes their bodies are undergoing. This is at direct odds with the teen lifestyle that seems determined to emulate adult late nights, while still maintaining a 7:15 AM school schedule. Your teenager may be functioning on six hours of sleep during the week and then staying in bed until early afternoon on weekends, but this is not physically beneficial.

Our bodies work best within a wake-sleep routine, one that doesn’t vary too much. Too little sleep places stress on the body and on its major systems. A fatigued, grumpy adolescent is not a happy camper. He’s not able to function at his best and feels terrible. Do your entire family a favor and make the evenings in your household a time of transition towards relaxation and sleep. This includes turning off and removing electronic devices from bedrooms so they do not interfere with healthy REM cycles.

Each of the five guidelines listed above require perseverance and dedication to implement. Start a dialogue with your teen. Be honest and open about the changes you want to make and why. If you believe and implement each of these in your own life, you’ll have a firm position upon which to make your case for family-wide implementation. Teens are notoriously suspicious of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do. You’re not going to get away with carrots and apple slices for your teen while you’re eating donuts and cookies. Ultimately, these changes can help your whole family—not just your teenager.


For more information about raising teenagers, read Dr. Jantz’s book The Stranger In Your House.